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OH MY GOD, WE ALL GONNA DIE
prove me wrong, and you win a cookie....with teh whipped cream.
The Universe is a dangerous place. There are black holes, and sudden explosions, and meteors flying around everywhere. But hey, that's not all. Something so ordinary like a cloud may one day do us in as well.
Of course, the Doomsday Cloud that will bring about the end of the world is quite different from those puny pieces of wadding you see up in the sky every day. Our cloud of doom is a bit bigger than that. It would take our planet something like one million years to pass through it. That's why scientists refer to the thing as a `Giant Molecular Cloud' - `giant' being no understatement for a cloud that's several light years across.
In the emptiness of the Cosmos, Giant Molecular Clouds are nothing special. Giant Molecular Clouds are, in fact, stars in the making. First, there's a cosmic cloud of dust and gas; next, gravity presses the cloud together -- and finally, there's a star lighting up. In fact, our own Sun started out as a cosmic cloud, too.
But what harm can something so utterly boring like a cloud really do?, you may ask. Well, for one thing, space clouds have the rather nasty habit of choking the life out of every planet they swallow. According to some scientists, it was a cosmic cloud, and not a comet, that did in those poor old dinosaurs!
Giant Molecular Clouds have a reputation for messing up the atmosphere of each Earth-like planet they encounter. When our planet passes one, dust from the GMC will block the Sun. The Sun would become a vague blot of light in the sky. In no time, a spine chilling Ice Age would break out.
Oh, big deal, so you turn up the heating. But wait -- that was just the beginning.
Apart from dust, Giant Molecular Clouds typically consist of huge amounts of hydrogen. Loads of it would penetrate our atmosphere. Once there, the hydrogen would start mopping up oxygen atoms, combining them into water. Surely, this would bring about a lot of rain (as you might expect from a cloud). But what's worse, with the planet's oxygen level dropping, breathing would become hard -- if not impossible.
And the Doomsday Cloud isn't finished yet. Since the thing consists of soot and dust, it has gravity. Consequently, it will attract millions and millions of cosmic rocks and meteorites from the outer regions of the solar system. Planet sized chunks of stone and ice will come flying in from all directions. Some will explode and block the Sun even more; others will just hang around a bit or, well, impact on Earth.
So basically, GMCs bring about all kinds of apocalyptic events at once. Meteors, Ice Ages, Nuclear Winters, oxygen shortage, floods, volcanoes -- you name it, it's all there. Once smothered in a space cloud, we would find our planet harassed by every weird and violent natural phenomenon you can think of. For hundreds of thousands of years in a row, Earth would be a complete mess, a mayhem of meteoric impacts, blackened Suns, climate shifts and cataclysmic floods not unlike what Saint John wrote about in his biblical book The Apocalypse.
Gladly, we should see a cloud like this coming. And as far as Exit Mundi knows, the cosmic weather forecast looks quite good, predicting a cloudless Universe for many hundreds of thousands of years to come.
On the other hand, it doesn't really help that one day, our solar system may indeed run into a GMC. When it does, better prepare for the worst. Space weather would be BAD for a million of years or so. That's plenty of time to rid our planet of all things bigger than a microbe.
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